NAACP explosion: FBI unclear whether it was 'targeted bombing'

Homemade pipe bomb was detonated outside Colorado Springs chapter

Wesley Lowery,Washington Post
Thursday 08 January 2015 12:41 GMT
A homemade pipebomb was detonated outside the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP
A homemade pipebomb was detonated outside the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP (AP)

More than 24 hours after an explosive was detonated outside of a building that houses the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP, authorities say it remains unclear whether it was a targeted bombing.

Three NAACP staff members were in the building that houses the national organisation’s Colorado Springs chapter when, around noon local time Tuesday, a homemade pipebomb was detonated outside – rattling the building and raising questions about whether the chapter was the target of an act of domestic terrorism.

The FBI, which is leading the investigation, has said it is probing the possibility that this was a targeted act of domestic terrorism, but a spokeswoman said on Wednesday afternoon that the agency has not ruled out other possibilities.

“We’re looking at all possible motives, not just specifically that the NAACP was targeted, although that is one possible motive,” said FBI Special Agent Amy Sanders, who noted that there was both a barbershop and tax services office nearby. “There could be any number of reasons.”

The chapter’s president, Henry Allen, an Army veteran and retired law enforcement officer, said that the chapter had several perceived threats in the past, but none that it had taken seriously.

“Lets you and I be honest, we live in a country where there are still some that do not want to accept black and brown people into the circle of power,” Allen said. “Those people have been around forever and will continue to be around forever. But the majority of Americans want the same thing – a peaceful community that involves all of us.”

Allen stressed that the chapter, which had been active in statements and events related to the grand jury decisions against indicted officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, will not be silenced.

“We will not be deterred,” he said. “I can assure you that early morning Thursday morning, we’ll be back in that office.”

In the two years he has been president, Allen said, the organization has boosted membership rolls from 200 to more than 500 – largely by reaching out to a diverse set of community groups including Tea Party chapters, local Hispanics and Republicans.

“This organization, contrary to a lot of people’s beliefs, is one of diversity,” said Allen, who noted that the national organization was started by white Americans and that his chapter’s executive board includes black, white and Hispanic members. “We’ve really done a good job of reaching out to the entire community here in Colorado Springs.”

And the chapter, Allen says, is active in fighting workplace discrimination throughout the country – processing four or five workplace discrimination complaints from community members each day and lobbying on behalf of residents who believe they have been treated unfairly along racial lines.

Allen said the activism has found willing partners in Colorado Springs’ City Hall as well as the county government, who have regularly met with NAACP leaders to discuss diversity in city hiring and retention.

“This incident is not reflective of Colorado Springs,” Allen said. “This is the actions of someone totally outside of the mindset of what goes on in this community.”

Officials say a homemade pipebomb detonated next to the building, which houses both the NAACP chapter and a barbershop with a predominantly black clientele. The bomb had been placed next to a gas can, but the can did not ignite.

“Once the pipebomb was set off it was supposed to ignite the gas can,” said Allen, who has been briefed by state and federal investigators. “Fortunately, that didn’t happen.”

The FBI, which is leading the investigation, has released the description of a suspect: a balding white man in his 40s who may be driving a dirty pickup truck with a missing or covered license plate.

Many of the young activists who have used social media to propel the current Black Lives Matter protests expressed outrage at the incident – and at the relatively sparse mainstream media coverage of it.

“…the building was bombed in the morning, when he knew people would be inside,” said DeRay Mckesson, one of the leading activists behind the Ferguson protest, in a tweet Tuesday night. “This was an act of domestic terrorism.”

NAACP leaders across the country, meanwhile, said they condemned any act of violence aimed at silencing the organization – the nation’s oldest civil rights group, having been founded in 1909 – and vowed to stand in solidarity with the Colorado Springs chapter if it is determined that it was the target of the bomb.

Local and national leaders have been cautious about declaring the incident a direct attack on the organization, and the national office has stopped short of even referring to the incident as a “bombing.”

“The cause of the explosion is still unknown,” the national office said in a statement released Tuesday night. “The NAACP looks forward to a full and thorough investigation into this matter by federal agents and local law enforcement.”

Still, local and national leaders noted that the organization has been targeted in the past for its civil rights stances – for decades by the Ku Klux Klan and more recently by white supremacist groups and lone-wolf actors.

“The NAACP is the most well-known civil rights organization in America,” said Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP’s Rhode Island chapter. “Hopefully there is some other explanation for the explosion other than an attack, but if it was an attack, I wouldn’t be surprised that someone would try to attack an organization that stands for the things we stand for.”

Copyright: Washington Post

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